The second Grand Slam of 2018 is nearly upon us and one man stands head and shoulders above the rest, Rafael Nadal. The sixteen-time Grand Slam champion has been by far the best player in the clay court season and looks on course to pick up title number eleven in the French capital.
However, tennis is not that simple and no one is on lock to win a title, especially a Grand Slam. The unexpected can happen and that is why sport is the best form of reality television. Who is the second favourite for the French Open? There are four men who might be able to capitalise if the great Spaniard exits the tournament, or maybe one of them may dethrone him.
Best result at Roland Garros: SF (2016, 2017)
The only man to defeat Nadal on clay in the last two years has been the Austrian powerhouse, and perhaps he is the only man who can do the unthinkable. Each year, Thiem happens to find his best tennis at Roland Garros and that shows in his impeccable results where he has been a semifinalist the past two years. There is no reason why the Madrid finalist cannot light up Paris once again.
The big question with the World #8 is we simply do not know which Thiem will turn up on the day. Earlier this year in Madrid he was outstanding against Nadal only to put in a poor performance in the final two days later. At the French Open last year, he was excellent in defeating Djokovic and then failed to reproduce that magic in the next round. Dominic Thiem will need to string together some amazing performances if he is to claim his first Grand Slam title.
Best result at Roland Garros: R3 (2016)
The young German has without doubt been the second best player in the 2018 clay court season. He has won seventeen of his twenty matches on the red dirt this year, picking up titles in Munich and Madrid along the way. Zverev has reached the semifinals in all of his clay court tournaments this year and he even went on a stunning thirteen match winning streak so the German is clearly one of the in form players heading into Roland Garros.
The asterisks hanging over Zverev’s short career so far is that he has not been able to produce his best tennis in the Grand Slams. Despite having three Masters 1000s titles, the World #3 is yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Judging by his recent form, that streak will most likely end in very soon. Alexander Zverev has got a realistic shot of winning the French Open.
Best result at Roland Garros: Champion (2016)
The former World #1 seems to be back to his almighty best, or at least close. Novak Djokovic has not enjoyed much success this year but he has been slowly playing himself into form and looks ready to peak at Roland Garros. Two wins in two weeks over Kei Nishikori showed us that the Serb is still a force but it was his straight sets loss to Nadal in Rome that showed us he is back. The match exhibited two greats of the game pushing each other to the limit before the King of Clay prevailed.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves though because we were in this exact position last year. In 2017, Djokovic appeared to be back to his best with a run to the final in Rome, however, he followed this up with a disappointing loss to Thiem where he did not demonstrate much fight. I am convinced this year is different and there is no reason why Djokovic cannot go all the way. Remember, he is one of only three past champions in the draw.
Best result at Roland Garros: QF (2016)
The Belgian has been quietly going about his business during the clay court season and many people seem to overlook his results. In his four events on the red dirt this year, Goffin has reached the quarterfinals in three of them (Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome). He has a game well suited to the clay and is a former quarter finalist at Roland Garros. Goffin may have been able to match or better this result last year had he not suffered a freak ankle injury in the third round.
The world #9 enjoyed a stellar 2017 season so he is clearly enjoying the best tennis of his career at the moment. He can also beat the best players on clay which is shown in his five victories over top ten players on this surface, including victories over Djokovic and Thiem. Write off the Belgian at your peril, he will look to turn many heads at the 2018 French Open.